Land of the Largemouth

Deep in the 'Glades lives wicked wildlife and big bass!

Pat Ford December 9, 2010

Up until recently, most of what I knew about largemouth bass fishing came from Carl Hiaasen’s novel, Double Whammy. Though in recollection, I have to admit my bass fishing career started when I moved into a lakefront property 10-years ago. Shortly thereafter, famed Captain Alan Zaremba came over to teach me how to properly fish the lake. He pointed out that since the water was fairly deep and crystal clear with a minimal amount of vegetation growing along the drop off, I should fish a small worm on a ¼oz. jighead. It worked just fine and I’ve been using it ever since. However, I soon learned that the simple rig is pretty much limited to clear, open water—not the dark, overgrown canals one thinks of when picturing the interior of the Everglades. I didn’t care—I never ventured that far into the ‘Glades anyway.

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Photo: Pat Ford

As the years passed, colorful peacock bass took over my lake and as a result, every largemouth I caught was thin and ragged…until last year’s severe cold snap. The lowest temperatures in recent history froze nearly every exotic peacock in the lake. The same unseasonably low temperatures also drove saltwater game fish off the flats and popular species were pretty hard to come by in many of South Florida’s otherwise prolific coastal venues. Like many other anglers I still had the urge to wet a line and the Everglades became a sudden area of interest. Captain’s Alan Zaremba and Thadeus Ragan are both professional freshwater guides who gradually convinced me that I was missing out on a ton of fun by not taking them up on their offers to join them in the ‘Glades. I am now a believer and have since fished with the pair on numerous occasions. While I’m not ready to throw away my Borski Sliders or Tarpon Bunnies, big bass certainly offer a welcomed change of pace. Thadeus and Alan are experts and with their permission, I’m going to share what I learned during our time on the water.

While I’m not ready to throw away my Borski Sliders or Tarpon Bunnies, big bass certainly offer a welcomed change of pace.

First of all, it’s important to note that adventures into the heart of the Everglades must be taken very seriously. Rarely will you see another boat and cell phones are often useless. Fortunately though, most of the productive canals are long and straight so a simple GPS will guarantee that you’ll make it back to your vehicle. If you’ve never been deep into the ‘Glades I highly advise you spend your first couple of outings with a qualified professional.

Let me be the first to reaffirm that fanatical bass fishermen take their tackle very seriously. A typical bass pro will have at least a dozen rods rigged and ready. It seems they need at least one outfit for each type of lure they might throw. Both spinning and casting reels are loaded with 15 to 40lb. braid (fragile monofilament has no place near thick vegetation). Rods are ultra light and sensitive in medium-heavy action with ample backbone.

In regards to terminal tackle it won’t take you long to learn “soft plastic worm” covers a lot more than just a 6-inch purple worm. There are literally hundreds of sizes, shapes and colors of worms that resemble nothing I’ve seen in the real worm family, but bass love them and seem to prefer one flavor to another depending on the day of the week and particular location. You could literally spend a week in Outdoor World checking out soft plastic worms and just when you think that you’ve found what you need, you’ll discover plastic worms that resemble snakes, lizards, crawfish, minnows and aliens from a different galaxy. Some are best cranked across the surface and some are better fished along the bottom, but they all have to be rigged totally weedless since bass conceal themselves in dense cover waiting for their next unsuspecting meal to swim or slither by. Deep in the Everglades these keen hunters are also notorious for lurking along the shorelines waiting for something to fall in the water. The most productive cast will bring your lure off the shoreline and into the lily pads, trees or reeds. Casting accuracy is critical which explains why professionals can flip a lure into a teacup 50-feet away with one arm tied behind their back. I’ve watch Thadeus and Alan work a stretch of shoreline with such precision that not an inch of water was missed. If you’re going to catch bass, your lure has to enter the strike zone and to do it right you will be casting continuously. If you can’t cast you better plan on drowning shiners, which can be extremely productive, too.

I also figured out that abrasion-resistant braid and stiff rods are not just for dragging bass out of the brush, but also necessary for properly setting the hook. As I mentioned, 95% of your lures have to be weedless with the point of the hook inserted back into the soft plastic so there’s no chance of snagging anything. A guide will literally have you casting onto the shore and dragging the worm over land and into the water—you can’t do that with an exposed point.

There are dozens of different ways to rig soft baits to effectively target bass on the surface, on the bottom, and every foot of water in between. If you’re working a lure on the surface, you’ll want to keep it moving pretty fast. If it is on the bottom it needs to be worked at crawfish speed—slow. A favorite depth-seeker is a jig, but bass jigs are much more elaborate than their saltwater counterparts. Bass jigs vary in weight, are mostly dark, feature plenty of rubber skirt material and always sport an effective weedguard. Thadeus goes the extra mile and adds soft plastic claws. The end result perfectly mimics a crawfish. In addition to all the fancy soft baits and jigs, at times crankbaits, poppers, spinnerbaits and buzzbaits all produce. Don’t worry; a guide will have more lures and equipment than you can imagine.

The best time to fish the Everglades is during the dry season—October through May. Not only is the water cooler but there’s also a lot less of it. With lower water levels the fish concentrate in the canals instead of spreading out all over the flats and across the marshes. Pesky mosquitoes are also less prevalent during the winter and the air temperature is more conducive to a pleasant day on the water. One thing I can guarantee is that if you put in the time, sooner or later you’re going to whack one of those 10-pounders’. Then you’ll really be hooked.

Access

The Everglades is one of the most biologically diverse watersheds in the world. From endangered birds to frightening alligators, you better not forget your camera. Largemouth bass inhabit all of the canals of the Everglades, especially along Tamiami Trail, Krome Avenue, and all the way up into Holiday Park. Many of these canals can be fished from shore but as with most venues, a mobile platform will increase your odds tremendously. Both Thadeus and Alan run customized bass rigs but they also understand the advantages of a stealthy Jon boat or Gheenoe to reach places few others can. Airboats have a place here as well, but that’s a whole other story. Nevertheless, the purpose of transportation remains the same—to find big bass. That takes either years of exploring or an experienced guide. I’ve always found the guide route to be a better use of my time. One of the most productive trips I’ve ever had was in an area along the Palm Beach/Broward County line called Holey Land. This 35,350-acre wildlife management area is part of the most northern region of remaining Everglades sawgrass marsh and the entire area is crisscrossed with productive canals.

Holiday Park
Take I-95 or Florida’s Turnpike to I-595 west. Continue west on I-595 to I-75 south. From I-75 south head west on Griffin Road until it crosses Route 27 and you will see the entrance to Everglades Holiday Park.

Holey Land
Take I-95 or Florida’s Turnpike to I-595 west. Continue west on I-595 to I-75 north. Follow I-75 north to US 27 and continue north towards the Palm Beach/Broward County line. From here, take L-5 levee west approximately 9-miles to the first access point on the north side of the levee.

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